Ah, the intriguing and confusing world of dating.
I sometimes long for the idea of 19th Century courtship. From all accounts, dating in the 1800s was a highly regulated and controlled method of finding a partner, in social and economic terms. True, being a gay man, dating in the 19th Century would offer its own unique obstacles, like the fact that homosexuality was not public eye material and took place in the shadows. Despite this very important roadblock, it’s nice to romanticize the ideals of courtship of that time. Well, times have changed and so have the rules and goals of dating.
Whereas sex was the last accomplished goal in 19th Century dating, for many gay men, it is the primary goal post of today. This complete transformation of the dating game has stunned many and made life even more confusing for those who would seek a possible relationship rather than a quickie with no phone call.
Dating in the gay world has been most receptive to GPS enabled so-called dating apps. One of the most popular, Grindr, has become the go to staple of the gay man’s booty call. Open up the app, and like magic, you get a wide variety of available men closest to you. The app’s functionality makes clear its purpose: to get laid. But many men on the app send mixed messages.
If you’re fond of Greek male statues, then Grindr can be better than any museum. Many fit men post profile pictures of their cut torsos, sans face. Some guys make it clear that their photo is a very recent one, as honesty is a common problem on these facilitators of sex. Other men post very normal profile pictures of themselves. The app also allows you to display your physical characteristics such as height, weight, and your ‘tribe’. By tribe, Grindr allows its members to associate themselves with labels such as geek, jock, clean-cut, etc. A gay man looking for some action can use this plethora of details to discern a potential hookup – just like perusing a wine menu.
While many find this naked attempt to facilitate sex quite jarring, Grindr continues hooking up new members. But some gay men appear not to want the casual hookup. Some Grindr guys explicitly state that they are not looking for hookups. Rather, they state that they are looking for friendship and perhaps, the beginnings of a relationship. Are 19th Century dating norms making a comeback?
Grindr provides a glimpse into the modern gay dating world – revealing the unmistakable trend of gay men looking for the moment. But it also reveals schizophrenia, as some gay men battle the lustful urge of the minute with the longing for companionship and relationship. The app and those like it can provide a wealth of sociological data in attempting to decipher modern views of dating and relationships in the gay world. Straights are not immune to this modernization of dating as there are a number of Grindr type apps targeted to them.
Alfred Kinsey uncovered a treasure trove of information in regards to Americans and their sex lives in the 20th Century. Apps like Grindr are a modern source of this same data. Does Grindr perpetuate the de-emphasis of relationships in the gay world or does it merely reflect the trends? I cannot be sure. But with the gradual arrival of marriage equality, it would appear that gay men can finally participate more easily in the ritual of dating, developing a relationship, and then committing to a partnership that is finally recognized by the government. Clearly, Grindr is not the same as a Match.com. Gay men use it for sex. But with a new crop of ‘friendship’ or ‘relationship’ only designations, I wonder if there is more to it than the fleeting sexual encounter. Perhaps, the dating world for gay men is adopting the formality of a former time. Or perhaps, these apps confirm that the gay men who use them are just seeking a good time with no strings. Whatever the truth, it is clear that sex, dating, and relationships for gay men are just as complicated as they ever were.
“Courtship in Early America” — Digital History
“iBone” — GQ Magazine
“Biographical Materials on Alfred Kinsey” — The Kinsey Institute